Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Pooh Community

Very fun satire by Richard Bauckham. Some tidbits:

The stories afford us a fairly accurate view of some of the rivalries and disputes within the community. The stories are told very much from the perspective of Pooh and Piglet, who evidently represent the dominant group in the community - from which presumably the bulk of the literature originated, though here and there we may detect the hand of an author less favourable to the Pooh and Piglet group. The Pooh and Piglet group saw itself as central to the life of the community (remember that Piglet's house is located in the very centre of the forest), and the groups represented by other characters are accordingly marginalized. The figure of Owl, for example, surely represents the group of children who prided themselves on their intellectual achievements and aspired to status in the community on this basis. But the other children, certainly the Pooh and Piglet group, ridiculed them as swots. So throughout the stories the figure of Owl, with his pretentious learning and atrocious spelling, is portrayed as a figure of fun. Probably the Owl group, the swots, in their turn ridiculed the Pooh and Piglet group as ignorant and stupid: they used terms of mockery such as 'bear of very little brain.' Stories like the hunt for the Woozle, in which Pooh and Piglet appear at their silliest and most gullible, probably originated in the Owl group, which used them to lampoon the stupidity of the Pooh and Piglet group. But the final redactor, who favours the Pooh and Piglet group, has managed very skilfully to refunction all this material which was originally detrimental to the Pooh and Piglet group so that in the final form of the collection of stories it serves to portray Pooh and Piglet as oafishly lovable. In a paradoxical reversal of values, stupidity is elevated as deserving the community's admiration.
Such insight into the tensions between various factions in the Pooh community could easily be extended into more debatable territory (the identification of the Eeyore faction e.g. is still debated - some recent scholars have argued that Eeyore is best seen as representing the adults of the village). But I move on to give you an example of the way in which various crises in the community's history have left their mark in the traditions. One such crisis, we can be sure, was caused by the arrival in the village of an Australian family. This was a highly disturbing event for such a community of rural English children - otherwise isolated from the rest of the world. Rabbit (in the book) voices what must have been the general reaction of the community: 'We find a Strange Animal among us. An animal of whom we had never even heard before!' While Rabbit voices the indignation, Piglet expresses the community's fear of the newly arrived Australian children: 'Generally Regarded as One of the Fiercer Animals.' The Australians are represented in the story, of course, by Kanga and Roo.
One small correction for Prof. Bauckham and his Pooh community scholars: He states that honey is not found in the Narnia books (while it is found in the Pooh books). I beg to differ. The Bulgy bears give honey as a gift to the exiled boy king Caspian when he is taken to visit them in Prince Caspian, and we are told that it took him a long time to get unsticky again afterwards. No doubt modern scholarship will provide us with at least one scholarly article or perhaps a dissertation on this matter.


HT: Esteemed Husband

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